New York City. Thursday night.
Cop directing traffic along 7th Ave. Car zips through a light behind him and squeals to a halt inches from the bumper of another car stopped at the far side of the intersection. Cop punches the hood of the first car with his fist and points through the windshield at the driver and yells:
---What color red light were you waiting for?
Cop looked to be in his early 30s. If he's descended from a long line of cops, as so many are, I'll bet his great-grandfather used that line on somebody driving a Model A. They probably teach it at the academy.
Striding towards me up W 44th, a Sarah Jessica Parker lookalike, only dressed like a normal human being, cell phone pressed hard to the side of her head, indignantly assures whoever she's talking to:
---I would never do that! (The person on the other end doesn't agree fast enough. She insists, her voice rising) Never! Never ever ever ever EVER do THAT!
Standing across West 51st from Radio City Music Hall, a short and extremely thin man in his fifties wearing a natty blazer with a plaid scarf under the lapels; his hair is a work of art---a tall pompadour rising four or five inches over his forehead and a ducktail. He's hollering into his cell:
---I'm looking right at it! I'm standing right here! Where are you? No, you're not. You're not! I'm looking right at it! Right at it! I'm looking at it!
In the restaurant men's room before dinner: Two young men in suits, not yet defined by their jobs, the informality, good humor, and boisterousness of their college selves still clinging to them. One is washing up at the sink, the other's on his cell---have I ever mentioned how much I love cell phones?---finishing a call:
First guy: We're still at the restaurant. I'm in the rest room. Just sharing an intimate moment with young Jason here.
He wraps up the call with a promise to be home soon.
Second guy: An intimate moment?
First guy: We're intimates.
Second guy: Was that Wendy who left early?
First guy: Yep.
Second guy: She looked like she'd had half a package.
First guy: She was pretty chubbed up.
Second guy: Someone taking her home?
First guy: I heard Sue talking to her. She asked her if she'd be ok, if she wanted a ride.
Second guy: She turned it down?
First guy: She'll be fine.
Second guy: She was feeling...She was pretty emotional.
First guy: She's like that. (Pause.) She'll be fine.
And, said by people at our table:
---This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.
---The two most beautiful words in the English language are “check enclosed.”
---Brevity is the soul of lingerie.
---They say he rides as if he's part of the horse, but they don't say which part.
---That woman speaks eighteen languages and can't say 'no' in any of them.
---Drawing on my fine command of the English language, I said nothing.
---It took me fifteen years to discover I had no talent for writing, but I couldn't give it up because by that time I was too famous.
---All the things I really like to do are either immoral, illegal, or fattening.
---I have no need of your God-damned sympathy. I only wish to be entertained by some of your grosser reminiscences.
---The surest way to make a monkey of a man is to quote him.
Ok, so the people who said those things ate and drank regularly at our table eighty years or so before we got there.
Dorothy Parker, Alexander Wolcott, Robert Sherwood, Robert Benchley, and the others made the Roundtable at the Algonquin Hotel famous. We were just basking in their reflected glory and hoping for a little inspiration from their ghosts---there's a sort of shrine to them on a sideboard behind the famous table and I think if you order them in advance the waiters will bring you votive candles to light with the dessert, assuming your dessert is on fire. Mine wasn't. I just had the cheesecake.
But our group included some pretty smart and witty people and I'm sure enough brilliant bon mots were dropped to keep the ghosts of the Algonquin wits from sneering too much at our presumption. I didn't take notes, but I overheard a great many stories and jokes that had me smiling and laughing all night.
You don't need to have been there to enjoy my dinner mates' wit and insight. Just visit their blogs.
And James Wolcott.
By the way, the Algonquin says that our table was the table, but I hung around after dinner long enough to watch the waiters and busboys clear and I checked when they removed the tablecloth.
None of the wits had carved their initials into it anywhere I could see.
But I was pulled away before I couldn't crawl underneath it. I'll bet Dorothy Parker wrote something down there and probably something dirty. Maybe even this one:
---If all the girls who attended the Yale prom were laid end to end, I wouldn't be a bit surprised.